Today’s Gospel records two terrible tragedies in this passing world. The first was brothers fighting over their father’s inheritance. This caused Jesus to tell a parable of the second tragedy - a rich man who hoarded his wealth. The immediate background for Jesus’ teaching is dramatic. He had just taught a crowd of thousands that God heard all secret things they ever said (v.2,3). He taught them not to fear that which killed the body (like a collapsing bridge for instance) but the one who had authority to cast into hell (v.5). He taught that the one denying Him before men would be denied before the angels of God (v.9).
TEXT: LUKE 12:13-21
YOUR LIFE CONSISTS IN THE RICHNESS OF GOD
Preached by Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center: Grace to you and peace from God our Father (Col 1:2). But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: One of the five confirmed deaths in the recent bridge collapse in Minnesota was 60 years old and driving a newly purchased Mercedes Benz home from work. Her husband described it as her dream car. Her vocation involved marketing insurance and mutual funds, helping herself and others save and prepare for the future. It is an honorable and honest vocation. Her personal financial house would seem to have been in good order. Retirement was just ahead with much security and enjoyment to look forward to. But her earthly life ended in an instant when the pavement beneath her car simply gave way. A massive bridge of steel and concrete (the kind we drive on all the time) collapsed in seconds. In an unforeseen moment of time this terrible tragedy occurred. Because of that tragedy, the victims will never again participate in the provisions and plans of this passing world.

Today’s Gospel records two terrible tragedies in this passing world. The first was brothers fighting over their father’s inheritance. This caused Jesus to tell a parable of the second tragedy - a rich man who hoarded his wealth. The immediate background for Jesus’ teaching is dramatic. He had just taught a crowd of thousands that God heard all secret things they ever said (v.2,3). He taught them not to fear that which killed the body (like a collapsing bridge for instance) but the one who had authority to cast into hell (v.5). He taught that the one denying Him before men would be denied before the angels of God (v.9).

Right then, in light of Jesus’ teaching about eternity, a man in the crowd voiced this incredible request. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” He only wanted his fair share of the family stuff. But Jesus’ response was swift and severe. “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Then Jesus told the parable of the rich fool.

The man in the parable was not a fool because he was rich. God had blessed him with riches. He was rather a fool because he wasn’t rich toward God. He stood on God’s ground in the midst of God’s harvest brought forth by God’s sunshine given growth by God’s rain and said, my barns, my grain, my goods, and my soul. He was rich in caring for himself and saving for his future. But he wasn’t rich toward God.

Let’s call him Ken. Ken worked hard and succeeded. Barns and fields as far as the eye could see. He invested wisely and kept a careful eye on the books. He knew that the future could be unpredictable, so retirement plans were systematically reviewed and updated. When he gave, he gave cautiously, always from his excess, after making certain of growth in equity and mutual funds and 401K’s. Ken had daily bread aplenty and even things in storage for a rainy day.

Still, God continued to shower him with blessings. A bumper crop, a bountiful harvest, produced mountains of new grain. His stomach was full. His barns were full. But not his covetous heart! “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.’

The church father, Ambrose, speaking on this text said that the rich man had plenty of storage space for his grain – in the mouths of the poor. But all the personal pronouns, the I(s) and my(s) in his own mouth didn’t allow room for the mouths of the poor. “I will say to my soul, soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But they weren’t really his goods and he really didn’t have many years left or even a few days for that matter. God said “Ken”, you idiot! You fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?

All that stuff he worried about, that mountain of goods and grain he schemed to squirrel away, didn’t amount to a hill of beans for him. Perhaps he died alone with no surviving relatives. In that case whatever the government didn’t get its hands on might well pass to some distant deadbeat relative. Vanity of vanities! Or, maybe his estate planning was top notch for his wife and children and that is certainly not evil. But what a fatal attitude of accumulation to pass on to them! It was not the riches God blessed him with that were evil. The evil was in his covetous heart that was not rich toward God.

Was the answer that he should have put God first? No. Putting God first is not the answer. God isn’t first on a to-do list. God first, and all our other idols, second, third, and fourth! Rather, as St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, Christ is your life; Christ is all, and in all! God isn’t the first of many on an inventory of life. God is everything! He is the source of life, and the sustainer of life everyday. Christ is all, and in all! All things are created through Him! The grain and the goods and the fields and cattle and the barns and beautiful gifts of food and drink are gifts from the hand of God. Whether we recognize it or not, all that we have and hold for a brief time on this earth is God’s. Our money too!

It’s a gift from God, like grain and sunshine and it is not evil. It is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil. And we can get very religious in our love for money. We can be more careful preparing our children for their first allowance than for their first communion. We can be more concerned about how they handle their money each week than how they handle the holy things of God each week. We can avoid teaching them what God says about returning to Him proportionately from what He gives to them. And He does give to them in birthday gifts and allowance and youthful jobs. After all, they’ll have to learn to pinch every penny if they’re going to get ahead. Also just by worry and an always-cautious example, we may rob them of the joy of spontaneous giving. Yes, we should be responsible with our wealth and also prayerfully plan our offering to God. No, we should not give in cool calculation that increases reluctantly while all the time we would rather build a bigger barn. For, God loves a cheerful, a hilarious giver!

Jesus’ conclusion was both condemning and comprehensive. It reaches right into this house of worship today. “‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one (that is anyone) who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” Fellow-Redeemed, the rich fool will not be alone in hell. He will be in the company of Shorewood churchgoers who were possessed by their possessions, who richly blessed by God were not rich toward God.

The sin you see is primarily a sin of omission, not one of commission. It is not a sin to be wealthy. It is a sin not to be rich toward God. The sin involves dullness to God’s provision of daily bread and the Bread of Life. The sin involves coveting more of this world’s things, so that whatever our economic status, our pile must grow larger and larger. The sin involves cool calculation that puts the Gospel somewhere on a long list of other priorities. The sin is not that one would take action to diversify holdings or make sound investments for financial security in the future. The sin is letting concern for these bigger barns choke out richness toward God.

Are you being rich toward God? That question cannot be answered by looking at anyone else or by comparing with the average Missouri Synod giver. That question cannot be answered because the dollar figure of giving is in the hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. That question can be answered only by looking at what God richly gives you through Christ who is all and in all.

Are you being rich toward God? If you answer, yes, I’m rich toward God, we are reminded of the Pharisee who stood in the temple and thanked God he tithed from all that he received. From the time he was a teenager on up his giving was statistically rich, 10% rich. Yet, he did not go down to his house right with God.

Are you being rich toward God? Perhaps like me you answer no I’m not rich toward God as I should be. I do worry about money and bigger barns for me and my children, I do covet more things and sometimes envy what others possess, I do give reluctantly and not always cheerfully. Jesus words stand immovable, So is the one (anyone) who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.

Does it not often seem as if all is vanity in our striving to be rich toward God? Are we not sorely tempted to turn about and give our hearts up to despair over such labors? Does it not seem as if fulfilling God’s will is a striving after the wind, a hot, withering, you’ll-never-measure-up wind?

Beloved, not for you who have been raised with Christ! You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God! Now that is rich indeed! Your giving also is hidden in the richness of Christ – really! You are freed to live as one who has nothing to lose, as one who is dead, because that’s what you are. You are dead to the world and alive in Christ. You have been buried with Him through baptism into death. Raised with Christ in the life of faith you have all the riches of heaven. You have wealth stored up for you that won’t rust or mold or get stolen. In Christ you have the ultimate retirement plan – eternal life with God and a seat at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. All of it comes to you as a gift from Jesus in water and word and bread and wine.

Beloved, because God holds you in His hand and will not let you go you are freed to loosen your grip on the passing things of this world. You are free to let go, free to use your stuff and not hoard it, free to give thanks for your wealth and enjoy it, free also to give a bit recklessly, free also to relax, eat, drink and be merry.

Remember the rich fool’s false delight? I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat drink, be merry.’ What he sought to give himself and couldn’t is Christ’s true delight to give you! The same Greek word for relax is exactly the word Jesus used to proclaim what he came to give you. Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest (Mt. 11:28) that is, I will relax you and put you at ease before God forever and ever. I will provide a joyful, banquet feast where you will eat, drink and be merry without end.

That’s what Jesus worked for under the sun. His work for your redemption was not vanity of vanities, not a striving after the wind. It was a striving after your soul. When Christ toiled under the sun on the cross He left all he worked for to us who had not worked for it. It was our souls that He ransomed from the power of Sheol. It was our souls that He was teaching about when He was interrupted with a family squabble over dividing the wealth. His answer flowed from his gracious will to give us His inheritance.

And give it to you He has. Why is it that you believe all of your sin is washed away in His blood? Because God has bestowed His riches upon you in faith! In faith you go home today right with God. He is so recklessly rich in His love for you. You are therefore free to receive your stuff with the hand of faith not the death grip of coveting. You are free to give cheerfully, not grudgingly. You are free to give generously, to be rich toward God.

The ancient Greeks had a slogan like this: “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Since our life is hidden with Christ in God, we can do the Greeks one better. “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we live. Even when the bridges collapse, even when your heart stops beating here, even when you no longer have place in the provisions and the plans of this world – you live! God has made provision for you that won’t collapse and that won’t run out and that will never die.

St. Paul said it this way, If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For, you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
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